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am 5. Juli 2000
I'm a guy. Just thought I'd get that out of the way before I write this. I knew this was considered a classic of science fiction before I even found a used copy, but I have to admit that I wasn't looking all that forward to reading it. For one the cover (the old original one on the paperback) is a garish thing, basically a feathered woman putting on another skin. Plus I knew the book was about female issues and specifically issues that came up during movements that started in the seventies, when the book was written. At least it was short, I told myself. I'd get it over with quick. Boy, was I surprised. Not only does this rank among the best books I've ever read, but it gave me a lot to think about. Part of that has to do with Russ' style, she cascades all sorts of chapters together, bouncing back and forth, her prose is excellent, not just femenist rhetoric, she brings up all sorts of points about everything. And her contrast of the different worlds, there's Joanna's world, which is like ours (she's the female trying to be liberated), and Jeannine's world, where the Depression never ended (she's meek and just wants to go along with the group, essentially), then there's Janet's, where men don't exist at all (my favorite scene is where the newspeople ask how she has sex if there are no men and Janet explains to their dismay). There's one other too but that's a surprise. The style is sometimes confusing at first, sometimes you don't know who is narrating or which character is which but after a while it all starts falling together. Russ peppers it with her own observations throughout, my favorite being when she anticipates the reviews the book is going to get (not good ones). Is it angry? Sure but back then she had a lot to be angry about, and she comes across rationally through, her anger is righteous and not of the "all men should die!" type of rage. Like I said, it gives guys and gals lots to ponder and deserves to be wider read. The style may be off putting but the message is clear as anything. You just have to dig a little with thought to figure it out.
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am 25. Mai 1999
Science Fiction? Yeah! Feminism? Good! Joanna Russ? I think I like her... So I bought the book and made a real effort, but halfway through I just gave up. I couldn't, for the life of me, figure this book out. Sorry.
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am 12. September 2015
Wel, what's there to say such a long time after buying and reading this book? Certainly good entertainment as such.
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am 27. Mai 1999
Although I'm a man who is sympathetic to the feminist movement, I found this book confusing and disjointed.
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am 28. März 1999
Note to aspiring writers: an exploration of one's own inner demons (Men bad! No likee!) is hardly a sure route to good writing. Superimposing a "daringly experimental" Faulknerian unreadability won't help either. Nor will having one-dimensional sots for main characters. Writers of the future, you /can/ learn to be a good writer by reading this book! But only by negative example.
In short: /The Female Man/ is self-important, self-indulgent, posturing, incoherent, and just plain icky.
Normally I would never even bother reading a early-1970s American "feminist" SF novel blurbed as "startling, outrageous, and subversive". However, I once heard Samuel R. Delaney say thet William Gibson's character Molly Millions (from Neuromancer et al) was basically lifted from just this book, from the character Jael. I figured, if it's got an ur-Molly in it, how bad can it be?
If you're thinking the same thing, don't repeat my mistake by reading this book!
Here's all you need to know about Jael: She appears only at the very end of the book, only in Part Eight, and in a bit or two of Part Nine. She's only in a few dozen (small) pages. She's got metal claws on her fingers, and sharp steel teeth. She's briefly wears a mimetic suit, just like Molly in the Sense/Net raid part of /Neuromancer/. That's about the extent of her relation to Molly.
She's from a near-future dystopia where men and women are warring camps. Subtle, yes?
We learn that she's an assasin and something like a time-travelling (thru alternate time-lines) secret agent. She's also an openly psychotic sadistic murderer. (The author seems not to consider this an ineffectual, much less implausible, mix of character traits.)
She's the only remotely attention-worthy character in the book -- and the fact she's in only the last section makes this a very end-heavy book, altho this is the least of this book's problems.
And she's just not worth the read.
But back to the book as a whole: I could be generous and say that this book is "dated". However, that would imply that once upon a time it was (and is) basically good, relevant, readable, and interesting, but that time and change have made it a bit clunky at points -- like /The Shape of Things to Come/ or /Foundation/.
However, I can't imagine that this book was any more readable or worthwhile in 1975 than it is now. Incoherent is incoherent, and pretentious is pretentious, whether it's fresh off the press, or under decades of dust. "Good" can became "dated", but "bad" is just "bad", and life is too short for reading bad books.
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am 27. November 1999
Most "classic" science fiction uses the devices of the genre - alien monsters, lightspeed ships, evil empires to be overcome - to mask the basic fact that, despite the high-tech window dressing, the books still promulgate the old ways of doing things: man on top, woman making the coffee and changing the diapers (even if she wears a space suit at the time). Not surprisingly, Joanna Russ will have none of that in any of her books, but particularly not The Female Man, which may be her best (though "Souls" in her award-winning volume (Extra)Ordinary People may be an easier read for some - and still just as hard-hitting). In The Female Man, Russ uses the very old SF device of time travel to bring contrasting characters together for the sheer pleasure of watching the man-centered universe fly wildly apart.
///Sidebar: What male-centered science fiction universe? Try reading Russ's take on the Star Wars phenomenon (the original episode), in her essay SF and Technology as Mystification (in To Write Like a Woman, U of Indiana Press): "After the hero's mother (disguised as his aunt) dies, there is only one woman left in the entire universe (Princess L.)." Yes, Star Wars came out after Female Man, but it's all-male premise was born many decades before.///
I must dismiss any cries of complaint about the "disjoined" sequence of events in Female Man. The time-shifting she used is little different from that in such classics as Conrad's The Secret Agent (where anarchist bombs constantly disrupt the PHYSICAL plotting of the book)or Philip K. Dick's Martian Time Slip (which is constantly jumping about in time and space); nor is it much different from the movie Pulp Fiction, which broke & rearranged the narrative at several points. As for Jael, the violent, psychotic assassin of The Female Man's later chapters, it will do the reader good to notice that her earlier incarnations - especially Jeannine, from 1970s earth - find her violence just as horrifying as does any reader! I suspect that if Jael had been male, her combination of "time-travelling secret agent" and "openly sadistic murderer" would not have seemed so out of line. After all, most of the Cyberpunk genre is filled with similar (male) characters, and nobody flinches a bit. No, the beauty and value of a book like this is that it upsets so many on the one side, while making the rest shout "Finally!" The Female Man remains unrelenting and unrepentant - attributes many find acceptable (even positive) in males, but dangerous and "anti-feminine" in females. If nothing else, The Female Man asks one simple question: Can Science Fiction (and/or the world) progress while still shackled by the rotting corpse of the feminine mystique?
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am 18. Mai 2000
Complex, yes that describes the book well. In fact, unless one is highly intrigued by the concept of following several women through different times periods who are also perhaps the same woman (?), this may not be worth the work to read. A classic for its feminist view and controversial statements and images, I found it valuable to read but not enjoyable to read.
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am 23. August 1999
THE FEMALE MAN is a demanding read: don't expect a light-hearted romp through alternate realities. Do expect a stylistic and political challenge.
Though Russ's "experimental" style may mystify ungenerous (read: lazy) readers, the surface difficulties should not overly disturb anyone who seeks the book out for its inherent merit, rather than to find an "ur-Molly Millions"-character.
Another quick note: plan to re-read, several times. Russ, here, creates a deeply-layered story that analyzes language-as-oppression in patriarchal society. Sound fun? Dive right in.
One time through left me (man that I am) merely dazed, but this is Russ at her best: deserving of much thought and appreciation.
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am 20. Juni 1999
Reading "The Female Man" gave me the feeling of finally finding a book that "gets it!". It isn't easy to read and demands a mind that is wide open, but given the time and patience I think it will open new horizons for other readers like it did for me. The possibility of existing in a world without men has nothing to do with hating men. It just reaffirms the basic assumption that (like many other hassels in our lives) it is possible to think about doing without them. Read it, think about it. I think it's good for you.
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am 18. Juni 1999
Love it or hate it - there is no middle-ground with this book. I take the former option; as a bitingly accurate satire on male/female relations, it's no wonder that there are so many negative reviews - the truth hurts, boys and girls. This book is the ultimate antidote to any man-trouble you might have. The word "empowered" is dreadfully antiquated but that's how this book made me feel. Not one for the squeamish.
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